Social Security and Retirement FAQs
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed July 31, 2018
Q: What retirement benefits can I expect from Social Security?
Your Social Security retirement benefits are paid monthly once you claim them and the amount you receive will be based on your lifetime earnings and the age at which you claim benefits. You can look up your estimated benefits online. If you retire at full retirement age, you'll get 100% of your monthly benefits. They'll be smaller if you retire early and increase if you delay collecting.
Q: Can I qualify for Social Security if I haven't worked professionally?
Yes. Typically, a worker needs 10 years of work to qualify for Social Security benefits. However, spouses will be entitled to payments of 50% of their signifcant other's retirement benefits, even if they don't qualify for Social Security on their own. If a working spouse has died, his or her family and dependents may also qualify for survivor benefits.
Q: When can I begin collecting Social Security benefits?
You can collect Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. However, if you collect before your full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced. Full retirement age is 65 for those born in 1938 or before and rises slowly to 67 for those born after 1960.
Q: Will delaying retirement increase my benefits?
For every month beyond your full retirement age that you delay collecting benefits, Social Security will increase your eventual monthly payments. You can increase benefits by 8% for each full year you wait. However, after you turn 70, waiting to collect no longer results in bigger monthly benefits.
Q: What happens to your benefits if you die?
If a worker dies before collecting retirement benefits, his or her Social Security savings don't disappear. The deceased's survivors, including his or her spouse, minor children, dependent parents and even unmarried ex-spouse can qualify for survivors benefits. A surviving widow or widower, for example, may be entitled to 100% of the deceased's retirement benefits.
Q: What if I need to stop working before full retirement age?
Not everyone can wait until they're 65 or older to retire. You can retire with reduced Social Security benefits as early as age 62. You can begin collecting from private retirement funds, such as a 401k, without tax penalties at age 59 1/2. If you can't work because of a disability, you may also qualify for Social Security disability insurance benefits.
Q: Can I work while retired?
Yes. If you collect Social Security before full retirement age, you can continue earning up to a certain amount before your benefits are affected. In 2014, early retirees could make $15,480 a year before benefits were reduced. Once you hit full retirement age, you can work and receive benefits without any reduction.
Q: Will Social Security be enough for retirement?
Probably not. Social Security typically covers only a percentage of the total income you'll need in retirement. You'll want to prepare significant retirement savings to ensure that your expenses are taken care of when you stop working.
Q: How much money will I need to retire?
There's no simple number that will cover everyone, but typically you'll want to be able to replace about 75% of your current income for as much as 30 years after you retire. The exact amount you'll need will depend on your life expectancy, health care needs, and lifestyle. Several retirement guides and even online worksheets exist to help you estimate what you'll need to have saved to retire comfortably.
Q: What private retirement plans are available?
There's a wide variety of retirement planning strategies you can pursue. Two of the most common retirement plans are 401k and IRA plans. 401k plans are sponsored by your employer. You contribute a certain percentage of your pre-tax income to the plan, and your employer will typically match your contributions up to a certain percent of your income.
An IRA is a retirement account you set up on your own which allows you to save with tax-free growth or tax-deferred income. Both 401ks and IRAs have limits on how much you can contribute each year and when you can take distributions. These are just two of many possible retirement plans, however. A combination of different plans may be best for your needs.
Q: When can I begin withdrawing from my retirement savings?
You can begin to collect Social Security benefits at 62. If you have savings in a 401k or IRA, distributions or withdrawals will be taxed an additional 10% if taken before age 59 1/2. There are some exceptions to this tax though, such as disability and certain medical expenses.
If you have questions about how best to plan for retirement, what benefits you may be entitled to, or when and how to begin receiving distributions from your savings, consider contacting a qualified attorney to discuss your options.
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